Reliable electricity is not a convenience – it is a necessity. Below are some documents and studies that look into how electric reliability can be supported and improved.
Each and every day, people across the United States use electricity in millions of ways, usually without even having to think about it. From flipping on light switches to powering televisions and smart phones, electricity is so readily available.
Electric companies have been committed to delivering clean, reliable energy to their customers in Colorado. Recently, part of that commitment included making upgrades to infrastructure. These modernization projects were needed to meet current and future regulatory requirements—and to ensure that customers will have affordable, reliable service now and in the future.
One local utility, Black Hills Energy, has filed to update electric rates to more accurately allocate costs to those who use energy. This request is not a rate increase. It is a revenue-neutral effort to more fairly attribute costs to electricity users. The overall objective is to adopt a fair and balanced approach that allows residential customers and small businesses to benefit from clean energy, while paying for electricity used and for maintenance of the electric grid.
A study revealed that while some customers are receiving greater benefits than the rates they pay to support service, other customer groups are in the reverse situation—they are paying for more than they are receiving. This means they are effectively subsidizing the high-use group.
Private solar adoption has increased the complexity of this situation. Some private solar panel owners connect to the grid for backup power and to send excess generation back to the grid. Other private solar owners disconnect from the grid completely. Those who don’t use the grid at all shouldn’t be required to pay to support it, but those who do use the grid should share in its maintenance and upkeep.
All of these factors need to be considered when rates are determined for different classifications of customers, including both residential and business users. Coloradans should equitably share in the costs associated with generation, delivery, and use of electricity.
As a member of Coloradans for Reliable Electricity, we know that renewable energy is the future of our state’s energy mix. Recently, huge strides have been made to find a fair way to integrate the energy produced by rooftop solar with other 24/7 sources of power.
What is Net Metering?
Here in Colorado, energy and renewables have taken the right step forward finding a fairer way to transform outdated net metering policies. These policies, established in the 1970s, compensate customers with rooftop solar for any excess electricity they generate; local utilities are required to buy back this energy via the electric grid at the full retail rate. This energy can be more expensive than the energy the utilities can produce themselves or buy wholesale.
The Effects of Net Metering
When private solar customers sell their electricity back to the utility via the grid, the rate at which they sell this power includes not just the value of the power, but also the cost of maintaining the grid. Maintenance costs of this energy infrastructure are effectively avoided by solar customers and shifted onto the backs of non-solar customers. As a shared resource, Coloradans for Reliable Electricity believes that the entire community has a responsibility to keep the grid safe, up-to-date, and reliable. We have to make sure that customers who cannot afford or choose not to install personal solar panels aren’t forced to pay extra to support those who do.
A Comprehensive Approach
The grid benefits all of us. However, as private rooftop solar continues to grow, policies must be in place to ensure non-solar customers don’t have to shoulder the costs of maintaining the grid.
Colorado energy provider, Xcel Energy, has collaborated with local government, non-profit groups, and solar advocates to establish a modern payment plan for solar energy. This new rate plan will buy energy from customers with private solar at rates that vary throughout the day and seasons, depending on demand.
For example, as energy demand increases, solar customers receive a greater amount of credit on their bills for the energy they produce and sell back to the utility during this time. This flexible type of payment will increase the value of energy that solar customers produce and sell to their local utility.
A Smarter Renewable Solution
Along with this new agreement, Xcel is committed to making solar energy available for all customers through large-scale solar power generation. Currently under review, these programs could provide customers with, “easy, convenient and flexible options for designating that up to 100 percent of their energy come from clean, renewable sources.”
This plan is currently under review by the Public Utility Commission. Developed by groups from different sides of the issue, this agreement will pave the way for a cleaner energy future for Colorado, and serve as an example for states across the nation.
How much do you know about our forefathers who came up with some of the things we use every day? Check out this video from our partners at We Stand For Energy of Colorado. Watch what people say about the inventors who are responsible for the energy we use today!
Did you know who the Father of Electricity was? Tell us your favorite electric innovator today!
Combating the heat by turning up the AC? You need reliable electricity for that!
As a part of Coloradans for Reliable Electricity, you know that a robust electric grid gives us the reliable energy we depend on throughout the year. As temperatures increase, we expect energy to flow at the flip of a switch when we power up our air conditioning (A/C). However, without reliable, affordable energy delivered through a solid, safe electric grid, we’d all be left to sweat it out—literally.
Reliability Depends on the Grid
So, what exactly is the grid? And why do we need it to be reliable?
Watch the “Man on the Street: Grid Edition” video from our partners in fair energy policies, We Stand For Energy of Colorado to see everyday Americans test their knowledge about the grid:
The electric grid is more than the tall utility poles and wires you see running into your home. This vast, complicated infrastructure includes transmission and distribution lines, power generation plants, substations, and many other elements.
To keep temperatures safe, we need reliable energy cooling us down in the summer or warming our homes in the winter. The structure and strength of the electric grid is a critical piece of the energy delivery process that makes electricity reliable.
Maintaining the Grid
Structural, technological, and security enhancements, all keep our grid strong and our energy reliable. Utilities across the country are proposing critical grid improvements that will keep energy flowing steadily. Reliable electricity is important for all of us in Colorado—especially when temperatures climb to high extremes.
But the grid doesn’t run smoothly on its own. Having the right energy policies in place to help equitably maintain, update, and manage the grid is essential for our state’s health and prosperity.
Coloradans for Reliable Electricity cares about our energy future and know that a robust electric grid supports economic prosperity, a diverse energy supply, and allows for innovation and technology to thrive.
We have worked hard to promote creative energy solutions, which has contributed directly to an exciting transformation. Our members should take notice of one such effort in Colorado.
Xcel Energy’s Our Energy Future, offers a new and innovative approach to modern energy management that strives to give consumers more choices and greater control while harnessing the power of emerging technologies among a dynamic network of energy resources. This new effort takes important steps toward fulfilling the energy needs of our future while keeping costs affordable and electricity reliable for consumers.
In partnership with leading companies such as Panasonic, the effort seeks to advance pioneering technologies that will put our state at the forefront of energy innovation. Highlights of the plan for Colorado include:
- Improving emerging technologies for residential and business use. New Innovative Clean Technology (ICT) pilot programs are commencing in partnership with Panasonic and other area companies to strengthen electric battery efficiency and reliability. The projects are but a first step toward supporting exciting new trends in development.
- Offering solar for homes. With the introduction of Solar*Connect and improved community solar garden options, Coloradans can benefit from a new, cost-based solar choice program that will offer customers a choice to sign up for 100 percent solar power and add a substantial amount of solar generation to the energy mix.
- Developing an Intelligent Grid. Later this year, Xcel Energy will craft a plan for developing an advanced energy infrastructure with a focus on interactive meter technology that seeks to improve customers’ choices and control of their energy use.
- Addressing environmental needs. Xcel Energy has announced its multipronged approach for ongoing environmental stewardship while giving consumers greater choices in energy generation and storage. Recently extended federal tax incentives will also result in the exploration of additional renewable resources at competitive prices for energy customers.
- Increasing choices, maintaining affordability. As Xcel Energy explores and expands pioneering energy offerings, the company also will be actively working to ensure costs are affordable and equitable for all Colorado customers. That includes working with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and undertaking an effort to lock in low natural gas prices to provide long-term predictable rates.
Read more and offer for your support of the initiative here, and stay tuned for updates from Coloradans for Reliable Energy as these innovative efforts unfold. This comprehensive approach promises to bring many benefits—for consumers, for Colorado’s economy, for our collective energy future.
Innovation is underway in Colorado to test and refine pioneering battery storage technology that can enhance the reliability and efficiency of the electric grid, while making solar more available and sustainable for more Coloradans.
The project, recently proposed by Xcel Energy Inc. and Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, is reportedly the most comprehensive, real-world study of its kind, exploring the broad capabilities battery storage systems offer and how they support solar microgrid power installations.
Pending the Colorado Public Utilities Commission’s approval, the batteries will be tested on two distinct projects:
- Solar for Homes: A residential initiative in the Stapleton area of Denver featuring a large-scale network of solar power panels on area homes.
- Solar microgrid system: Being developed for commercial customers at the planned Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. near Denver International Airport.
As discussed in detail here, a microgrid is a local energy grid that can operate independently, disconnecting from the main grid when it detects a disturbance. The battery tested in this project is expected to serve as a source of backup power to keep the microgrid running reliably. In addition, this innovative battery storage system can help enhance:
- Voltage regulation that mitigates power fluctuations;
- Increased use of renewable generation by the grid that keeps energy flowing reliably and reduces system peak conditions;
- More efficient and cost-effective use of stored power, saving power when costs are low and utilizing it when costs rise, reducing wildly fluctuating energy bills.
These tests, and the technology behind them, can help drive and define a path forward in which consumers have the renewable choices they desire at the prices they want.
We are on the cusp of securing a more sustainable energy future. Innovative solutions such as these can help resolve current challenges posed by solar, and meanwhile bring a smart energy future faster to Coloradans.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 13, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — A study released today by economists at global consulting firm The Brattle Group finds that utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in the U.S. are significantly more cost effective than residential-scale (rooftop) PV systems as a vehicle for achieving the economic and policy benefits of PV solar. This study, “Comparative Generation Costs of Utility-Scale and Residential-Scale PV in Xcel Energy Colorado’s Service Area,” is the first to focus on a “solar to solar” comparison of equal amounts of residential- and utility-scale PV solar deployed on an actual utility system.
- The generation cost of energy from 300 MW of utility-scale PV solar is roughly one-half the cost per kWh of the output from an equivalent 300 MW of 5kW residential-scale systems when deployed on the Xcel Energy Colorado system, and utility-scale solar remains more cost effective in all scenarios considered in the study.
- In that same setting, 300 MW of PV solar deployed in a utility-scale configuration also avoids approximately 50% more carbon emissions than an equivalent amount of residential-scale PV solar.
“Over the last decade, solar energy costs for both rooftop and bulk-power applications have come down dramatically,” said Dr. Peter Fox-Penner, Brattle principal and co-author of the study. “But utility-scale solar will remain substantially less expensive per kWh generated than rooftop PV. In addition, utility-scale PV allows everyone access to solar power. From the standpoint of cost, equity, and environmental benefits, large-scale solar is a crucial resource.”
Using real-world scenarios based on data from Xcel Energy Colorado, the study compares the per-MWh customer supply costs of adding 300 MW-DC of PV panels in the form of either 60,000 distributed 5kW rooftop systems owned or leased by retail customers, or 300 MW of utility-scale solar power plants that sell their entire output to Xcel Energy Colorado under long-term power purchase agreements. The analysis finds that projected 2019 utility-scale PV power costs in Xcel Energy Colorado’s service territory will range from $66/MWh to $117/MWh (6.6¢/kWh to 11.7¢/kWh) across all scenarios, while projected power costs for a typical, customer-owned PV system will range from $123/MWh to $193/MWh (12.3¢/kWh to 19.3¢/kWh). These prices are based on historical data, and are not necessarily reflective of current market prices.
The study attributes the large difference in per-MWh costs between utility- and residential-scale systems primarily to economies of scale and greater solar electric output resulting from optimized panel orientation and tracking assumed for utility-scale systems. The improved orientation and tracking of utility-scale solar also result in a higher capacity factor that causes it to avoid approximately 50% more carbon dioxide emissions than the same capacity of residential-scale solar PV on the Xcel Energy Colorado system. The reason utility-scale solar saves so much more carbon than rooftop PV is because the solar energy per MW is much higher on utility-scale due to better placement and tracking capability.
“Thoughtful energy policy requires a thorough understanding of the relative costs of utility- and residential-scale solar PV for achieving policy goals,” said Mr. Frank Graves, Brattle principal and leader of the firm’s utilities practice. “By directly comparing the costs and benefits of PV solar deployed in equal amounts of residential- and utility-scale systems based on utility-supplied data, the Brattle study provides a key contribution to the policy discussion about solar PV and should be essential reading for regulators and other policy makers.”
The study is authored by Mr. Bruce Tsuchida, Dr. Sanem Sergici, Mr. Bob Mudge, Mr. Will Gorman, and Dr. Peter Fox-Penner of The Brattle Group, and Dr. Jens Schoene of EnerNex. The report was prepared for First Solar, with support from the Edison Electric Institute. The full report can be downloaded at brattle.com.
About The Brattle Group
The Brattle Group analyzes complex economic, finance, and regulatory questions for corporations, law firms, and governments around the world. We are distinguished by the clarity of our insights and the credibility of our experts, which include leading international academics and industry specialists. For more information, please visit www.brattle.com.
You can see the entire study here.
So, it should come as no surprise that the electric power industry is in the midst of a major transformation — these are not your “mom and pop” utilities of the past.
In fact, the industry is investing more than $90 billion annually, on average, to make the transition to cleaner energy generation and to enhance the electric grid. When we think of utility innovation, this is what we might think of — huge generation projects, scalable grid technologies.
The rest of the story
But, the story is actually even broader than that. The electric industry isn’t just at the cutting edge of these kinds of large-scale innovations — it’s actively encouraging innovations on a smaller scale as well.
Take, for example, the second annual 1776 Challenge Festival in Washington, D.C., which recently brought together more than 70 entrepreneurs from around the world to compete in four prize areas, including energy and sustainability. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) was one of the lead sponsors of the energy semifinals at this event, and I had the honor of serving as a judge for the energy semifinal. All of the participants in this competition are doing important work that will help us achieve a future with cleaner energy and increased connectivity.
Being able to witness the dynamism and innovation at work at the Challenge Festival was especially exciting to me because I know these young innovators are tomorrow’s partners.
Of the 20 entrepreneurs who pitched, we had to select just two energy startups to receive a $50,000 investment from 1776, as well as advance to the Global Finals for the chance to compete for their share of $650,000 in prizes. The two winners were: Radiator Labs, which designed a Wi-Fi-enabled system that improves radiator efficiency; and BaseTrace, which uses DNA tracer technology to track the movement of industrial fluids and, thereby, improve environmental monitoring capabilities. RadiatorLabs ultimately went on to be one of three Challenge Cup Global Winners from among the nine finalists, but all of the competitors are great examples of the types of developments that will help us build a more sustainable energy future.
Events like these are a natural fit for an industry in the midst of a transformation, and they benefit everyone. Electric utility companies get to partner with new technology companies and potentially bring their products to market, while entrepreneurs get to connect with potential investors. The industry is constantly looking for new ideas on how to improve the grid. The more ideas we can all bring to the table, the better our ability to make electricity even more reliable, efficient, and affordable for customers.
The electric utility industry is a key part of the equation here, since many of these startups wouldn’t be able to bring their technologies to market on their own. To really be able to mass-market a new energy product or service, they’ll need established partners, and the electric industry is excited to be on the cutting edge of these partnerships.
Looking forward, one thing that’s certain is that the electric power industry is on a path of evolution and innovation. New technologies are constantly being developed, both by established companies and by entrepreneurs like those at the Challenge Festival. The building blocks of collaboration that we put in place today should pay dividends down the road as we work to improve the grid and meet customers’ evolving needs.
About the Author
Brian Wolff is Edison Electric Institute executive vice president of public policy and external affairs.
Survey: Energy is changing faster than our power grid can keep up, say our experts.
The United States has a serious problem it’s not dealing with, America’s energy experts want you to know: The power grid that keep our lights on and powers our economy is woefully behind the times, unready for the huge changes already underway in the energy sector.
“Whether it is cyberterrorism, natural disasters or natural gas and electric generation interdependencies, our current power grid is vulnerable,” wrote one utility CEO – a sentiment echoed widely among the four dozen top energy leaders POLITICO surveyed in its inaugural Agenda Survey. Others called the power grid “aging” and “increasingly unreliable,” and complained that modernizing it is “a bipartisan priority” that “is being swept under the rug.”
For The Agenda: Future of Power, POLITICO surveyed 47 energy thinkers from across the spectrum, from the coal and oil industries to green-energy startups. The group included former EPA administrators Christine Todd Whitman and Carol Browner; energy and economic officials for Presidents Bush and Clinton; the environmentalist Bill McKibben and the chairman of Washington Gas. The US Department of Energy even filled out its own survey.
As a group, they clearly foresaw a fight in the offing – more than 50 percent thought Sen. Mitch McConnell would succeed in at least hobbling the signature Clean Power Plan that Obama is rolling out this year – but also a bigger wave that McConnell and his allies can’t stop. Fully 76 percent predicting that carbon regulations would be more stringent 15 years from now. (Though nobody thinks environmentalists will run the table: a decisive 77 percent believed the Keystone XL pipeline would, eventually, be open for business.)
The overall picture our experts drew is of a nation whose power mix is changing but whose infrastructure isn’t keeping pace. Dirty coal plants are shuttering, wind farms are sprouting up, and cheap and plentiful domestic natural gas is on the rise as a source of the electricity that keeps our nation humming.
What this means, though, is that the aging power grid will need to be ready for widely distributed generation – for a world in which electricity flows through the wires not just to consumers but from them. And the grid, as it gets smarter and more networked, but also more widely distributed, will be increasingly vulnerable to security threats. Without prompting, several leaders raised this red flag.
On the policy front, the biggest question now hanging over the entire power industry is Obama’s Clean Power Plan, expected this summer, which will create a new set of carbon-dioxide emissions goals for states – America’s first national carbon policy. Opponents have complained it will create toxic regulations and needlessly cripple legacy fuel industries. But our panel didn’t seem worried that the Clean Power Plan would be quite that disruptive.
The biggest surprise the plan holds in store will be that the rules “will be accomplished relatively easily by the states,” said one; another said “the costs of compliance will likely run lower than expected,” since the plan builds in considerable flexibility on how states can reach their goals. One predicted that the business world will already have accounted for the impact, and says people will be surprised by “the limited degree of movement in the commodities markets.”
Not everyone was so sanguine, though – one predicted that a “number of normally EPA-supportive companies and states… will have significant problems with the final regulations.”
One key takeaway: Don’t expect the plan will survive just the way the White House writes it. Mitch McConnell has already launched a legal fight and a state-by-state campaign to rally governors against the new regulations, and although almost no one thinks he’ll succeed in torpedoing the rules completely, more than half of our respondents did think he would hobble their effects.
Who will win in the long run? A slight majority – 56 percent of our survey – was confident a Republican win in 2016 would lead to the rollback of the EPA rules that are pushing coal out of the power mix. And although fully 51 percent thought climate change would still be debated in America 15 years from now, a slightly larger number, 59 percent, predicted the US would adopt a cap on greenhouse gas emissions by then.
But energy is a long-term proposition, not just a question for the typical campaign cycle. Energy and climate goals tend to be articulated in decades. When the White House talks about its carbon targets, it focuses on 2030. So we asked our experts about 2030 as well: what kind of country will we be living in?
Overall, they envision a country powered by natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy—much the same mix as today, though natural gas is widely expected to overtake coal as the top source of fuel.
What happens to American politics as power sources shift? We might see a “return to regional energy favoritism,” but built around a whole new version of the industry. The “decline in influence of America’s coal industry” will be matched by a shift toward natural-gas states and the renewable-energy lobbies. What does that mean for the parties? There’s “no reason for a shift to low carbon resources to benefit one party over another,” said one, though others saw it as bolstering conservatism. “The heavy hit the Midwest takes will shift those states further to the right politically,” said one; another saw declining coal jobs likely, in those regions, “to push people toward tea party-like rejection of government generally.”
One powerful conundrum we face: Nuclear power won’t be going away – indeed, the single most definitive answer in our entire survey was the prediction by 91 percent of respondents that America would resume building nuclear plants. But the biggest challenge posed by nuclear energy still will not be solved: by a slim majority, 55 to 45 percent, our experts don’t expect America will find a long-term site to store its waste.
The problem nuclear energy represents—somehow navigating current politics while planning for extremely long-term needs—clearly holds across the entire power sector. Or, in the words of one: “Too many of our congressional leaders are more interested in preserving the past than determining the future, and that’s a dangerous game to play with our energy security.”
See the full article at Politico.com
Part 2 of an Inside Energy series Blackout: Reinventing The Grid
Bill LeBlanc hits the streets with a video camera every year to chat energy with average Americans, in different cities around the country, starting with the basics like “what exactly is electricity?”
He’s a senior advisor with Colorado-based E Source and the videos serve to help utilities better understand their customers. Through making them, he finds those customers don’t really understand electricity and, usually, most of them don’t really care to.
But, as the nation’s electricity grid ages and becomes less reliable, public knowledge will likely play a bigger role in finding solutions.
While a company like E-Source is helping utilities gauge customer knowledge about the grid, a new Colorado nonprofit is trying to help customers understand how the grid works. Coloradans for Reliable Electricity gives presentations to Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce, trying to convince them investments in the grid are just as important as investments in roads or bridges.
“If we ignore (the grid), if we don’t maintain it, it’s gonna change the quality of life in our country,” said Executive Director Bill Vidal.
There are occasions when greater knowledge actually leads to extra roadblocks for utilities.
Chelsey Crittendon and her neighbor Casey Lemieux take great pride in their little corner of Thornton, Colorado, a rapidly growing suburb north of Denver. During a recent interview, the two picked up trash from sidewalks and eagerly pointed out the neighborhood’s many green spaces. But, their smiles faded when they reached the end of their block. Right across from Lemieux’s house lies an empty field where their subdivision meets several others.
“They want to put a four-acre, 200-kilovolt substation right in the middle of seven communities,” he said.
We see substations all over — clusters of what look like steel shipping containers, where power lines spring from big metal coils. They’re usually surrounded by fences and signs showing a stick figure man getting cut in half by a lightning bolt. Utilities need substations every few miles in order to take the super high-voltage power from long distance power lines and step it down so we can use it in our homes. When you get too far away from these substations, electricity just sort of peters out and becomes less reliable.
Betty Merzayi, Transmission Planning Manager with Xcel Energy, said that’s starting to happen in Thornton.
“We’re already having problems with our overloads on existing systems,” she said, adding the utility has been trying to get a substation built in that neighborhood for about 10 years.
Part of the reason it has taken so long is few residents want something like that in their back yards. Crittendon and Lemieux worry about lowered property values, danger to kids, and potential (yet unproven) health effects from long-term exposure to electro-magnetic fields.
“Why do they feel they need to build in any neighborhood, not just our neighborhood but any neighborhood?” Crittendon asked.
More substations mean greater reliability. These critical building blocks of our electrical infrastructure are not going away anytime soon, even if they are intrusive. Yet, the overall problem is much bigger than this.
The grid is old and needs updating — how do you get ratepayers on board with that challenge? Well, there is another technology which could achieve that double-whammy of greater grid knowledge and fewer power outages.
Bill LeBlanc of E Source said so-called smart meters in people’s homes instantly tell utilities when power is out in an area.
“They can see that immediately on a computer,” he said. “They can go out and figure out how to fix it.”
The way it works now is utilities need customers to tell them about power outages. But, not everyone is ready to jump on board with the smart meter revolution just yet: